Rejection. Depression. Disappointment. Anger. Universal feelings that are unavoidable when your life hits a brick wall.
That’s how my 2008 began. But thankfully, it’s not how it has ended.
In less than two months, The Writings Of Dennis Earl will be turning three. After posting nearly 400 entries, the site has received close to 25000 hits altogether. Last year around this time there were close to 14000 overall. (There were a mere 3200 at the end of 2006.) Despite not writing very much this year about the ongoing tragedy of Quebecor’s cruel mismanagement of its newspaper properties (particularly, Sun Media), page views are up slightly since 2007 (roughly 11000 compared to 10000), an encouraging bit of news in an otherwise gloomy period. Still, there is much work to be done. I want to be as prolific as I was at the start (more on that later) and I want to attract more visitors who, I hope, will become regular readers.
But back to the dark period. For the first time in eight years, I had a job interview. A branch of The Hamilton Public Library was looking for part-time help. There was an in-house notice about it on the checkout desk in December 2007. It was an announcement I had been waiting for for almost two years. During that time, I would frequently ask certain staff members about possible openings. I was told time and time again that something was going to come up soon but months and months would pass without any official word. The moment I saw the notice, I asked for an application. It was quickly filled out, attached to a resume and submitted for consideration. By early January, an email was sent requesting my presence for an interview.
Imagine my surprise when an old high school classmate was competing for the same job. I’d last seen her at Steel City Video in either 2005 or 2006. When I told her about my Hamilton Spectator articles at the time, she expressed an interest in seeing them. I didn’t see her again until the day of the interview. As I was being summoned to go downstairs, we briefly exchanged greetings. I noticed her before then but decided not to approach her. I was totally focused on nailing this thing and didn’t want any distractions ruining my shot.
Being familiar with the two women who interviewed me for years, it went well. The written portion (put these books in the correct order by following The Dewey Decimal System) was another story. Although, in truth, it was a fairly breezy page to fill out (and I’m sure I did it perfectly), it took longer than it should have to complete it. Being an obsessive worrier at times, I agonized over my answers until I finally realized the order was fine. I kept obsessing after that until I finally calmed down.
Then came the call. It was down to me and one other person.
I didn’t get it.
Meanwhile, my friendship with my ex-girlfriend was faltering. As noted previously on this site, I met a young woman in a chatroom in March 2007. Long story short, we had a brief, turbulent online romance that lasted until early June that same year. I was dumped just days before my 32nd birthday. Anyway, after a few months of separation, she left a couple of very sweet messages in my Guestbook, the only ones that have ever been posted. After the second one, I realized she really wanted to reconnect with me. We exchanged long, tortured emails and agreed to be friends.
It was a terrible idea. My bones ached with resentment and I was swimming in an endless sea of sadness. I hated that she soon started dating someone else but I never said a word. I had no right to. Conversations creaked with awkwardness and needless delays. She had switched from a desktop to a laptop and her Internet connection was horrible. There would be numerous times where I would send her a message in real time and there would be no reply for 10 minutes. Either she hadn’t received the message at all or her computer would freeze up and there was no way for her to respond. By the time she did, she usually moved onto to a different thought altogether. All the while, frustration and anger kept building. It didn’t help that she had posted a sexy pic of herself with her giant tits hanging out of her shirt on her display window on MSN. I wasn’t sure who it was at first (you couldn’t see her face) but she confirmed it was her. When I asked her to send it to me, she refused. She displayed another one that showed off her flat stomach (complete with a belly button piercing). It was torture.
When we resumed online chatting in October last year, it did get sexual once which was nice. (This was before she started that new relationship which ultimately didn’t last.) But after that, any chance of mutual flirtation or full-on cybering was remote. (She didn’t want to be "friends with benefits" online or off.) I tried one last time on January 13th, her 19th birthday. She was drunk as a skunk and wearing a nice dress, she told me. We hadn’t spoken in a week. I was reaching the end of my tether but still stubbornly and foolishly clinging to the idea that somehow, some way we would have another go at a romance in the near future. When I brought up the idea of giving her "a birthday orgasm", she laughed in my face. Twice. Unfortunately, I wasn’t making a joke. I really wanted to fool around. In that moment, I realized I was wasting my time. I wanted nothing to do with her anymore. It was the last time we chatted.
A couple of weeks passed before I blocked her on MSN and on both my Hotmail accounts. She was deleted from my address book and her emails were relocated to the trash bin. Whenever I would go to my website, the first thing I would see were those goddamned messages she left in my Guestbook. Seeing them depressed me every time. Rather than remove the application from the site, I merely relocated it further down the page on the right side of the screen. They’re easier to ignore now, although when I do see them it’s not so bad. They were nice sentiments, after all.
On January 4th, nine days before that fateful, final chat session, I posted a poem about my feelings. It’s a bit dated now. I have no desire to rekindle what’s long been dead. And I do accept the reality of everything that happened. I did everything humanly possible to make her happy but it wasn’t enough. After going back and forth with my anger and resentment throughout the year, I finally had a breakthrough recently. I imagined having a conversation with her, telling her all the things I dared not say to her online, on the phone or even in person. A flood of endorphins flowed through my head when I was through. I’m at peace now about the relationship which would’ve been even more complicated and toxic offline, had it progressed that far. Being dumped was the best thing to have happened.
I wish the best for my ex, despite what you might think. I hope she realizes that before she starts life on her own as an independent spirit, she needs to face her past. She has been through hell and needs to heal. (Picking up a copy of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life by Dr. Daniel G. Amen would be a good start.) After all this time, I’ve learned that I couldn’t do that for her. Only she can. She is remarkably strong, sweet, a hard worker, smart, and beautiful. But she is also stubborn, fearful, reckless, manipulative, contradictory and selectively honest. My life is better having known her and cared for her. But maintaining any kind of contact with her is not healthy for me. It’s best for both of us to go our own separate ways for good.
The day before that poem I posted an entry about that awful TV writers’ strike, my first piece of the new year. Two months after the scribes hit the picket line in November 2007, most of the late night shows decided to come back which became the focus of my item. David Letterman and Craig Ferguson managed to work out a deal with The Writer’s Guild Of America which allowed them to use their unionized staff. Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Kimmel were on their own. Thankfully, everything was resolved this past February. The audience quickly learned how important those writers really are to those shows.
January wasn’t all bad, thankfully. My good friend, Rob Kerr, had been threatening for months to loan me his collection of Seinfeld box sets. He felt I would have plenty to write about once I went through them. He was right. As I watched seasons one and two for the first time in their original forms (I’d only seen the syndicated versions previously), I decided to go the trivia route having learned a number of interesting things about these particular episodes. Then, there was a follow-up piece about The Unsolved Mysteries Of Seinfeld. After watching the season three and season four box sets, there were more trivia pieces and occasional Unsolved Mysteries items. By the time I got to season five, however, there simply wasn’t enough interesting stuff to write about. It didn’t help that I was reaching the apex of my depression, either. (More on that in a moment.) That being said, here’s one bit of trivia from The Puffy Shirt episode. You know the scene where Jerry is waiting in his dressing room at NBC before he goes on to talk to The Today Show’s Bryant Gumbel about this charity thing he’s doing? Pay close attention to the artwork on the walls near the door. Notice the triangles. That’s a reference to Elaine’s "fat starving artist" boyfriend who we meet in The Junior Mint episode. Triangles are his signature motif.
Rob also loaned me the occasional movie. None were better than 2007’s Superbad, easily the funniest movie I saw this year. Also funny and entertaining was The Simpsons Movie, another 2007 title he let me borrow. Despite its positive qualities, I can’t recommend V For Vendetta, however. (The lead character is too flamboyantly obnoxious at times and the film just didn’t come together for me.) The Lookout, on the other hand, is a solid thriller. Who knew Joseph Gordon-Levitt was capable of delivering a great performance with such challenging material? It’s not as great as Richard Roeper has made it out to be, but it is a good movie nonetheless. It’s worth checking out, if you haven’t seen it. I wish I could say the same for both Clerks and Clerks II. While the former has its moments (it is overrated, though), the latter is a horrible misfire. I briefly mentioned both titles in my review of 2001’s Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back which was surprisingly hilarious. It’s definitely a Sore Jaw Comedy. Another good friend, Dave Scacchi, loaned me his copy of Batman Begins, the brilliant 2005 film that successfully relaunched that long dormant Warner Brothers franchise. Of all the movies I screened this year, it was the best one overall. He got me The Dark Knight for Christmas which I’m looking forward to watching. His frequent comments on numerous entries posted here this year (and in past years) are thoughtful, amusing and appreciated.
Speaking of movies, five months after my review of Just My Luck was posted, an angry reader posted an unintentionally funny comment. Typed almost completely in capital letters and loaded with the usual array of avoidable errors, the reader took great offense at my comments about McFly, the crappy band who appear as themselves in this Lindsay Lohan disaster. She didn’t have any opinions on my assessment of the movie itself, interestingly. Despite being commanded to never bash them again, McFly are forgettable and weak. I can’t remember a single song they play in the movie. That’s a good thing.
In April, my mom celebrated her 60th birthday. We had an open house at her church where dozens of family and friends came down to give her their best wishes, chow down on some grub and drop off cards and gifts for her. Mom made out like a bandit even though she really didn’t request any presents. She might not have had much to eat that day (she was too busy gabbing and laughing with her invited guests) but she was thrilled. It was a great day all around. Not too long after that, my cousin posted pictures of the event on her Facebook page. When I saw the two shots that were taken of me for the first time, I was appalled. I looked so thin and not happy. At the time I weighed just 115 pounds. (I’m six feet tall.) A few weeks later, I entered my worst period of the year.
One night in early May, despite feeling incredible, I couldn’t sleep. The next night, same thing. For the rest of the month, I would alternate between nights of very little sleep and nights of good, restful slumber. It was baffling. I became depressed despite having all those endorphins flowing through my body. My thoughts became more and more negative which buried me in more and more sorrow. I lost weight, ate poorly and felt increasingly desperate for regular sleep. For relief, I turned to the library, reserving a number of self-help books. Even on the days where I was dead tired, I pushed myself to read, hoping for a solution to my sudden dilemma. Remembering that my old college professor is married to a mental health specialist, I fired off an email to him hoping to get in touch with her. No reply. Feeling awful about this unwanted situation, I booked an appointment with my doctor. It was a turning point. She referred me to the in-house mental health counsellor. During my second session with my shrink, she pointed me in the direction of Employment Hamilton, a government-funded service for local job seekers. My resume was completely reworked. I attended a couple of job search training sessions which were enlightening. And I began looking for a part-time job. As of this writing, I’ve applied to about two dozen places and EH has lobbied on my behalf to half a dozen more. All the while, I started eating better, feeling better and more importantly, I figured out why I wasn’t sleeping superbly. On that first night where I was too excited to doze off, I remember focusing a lot on my heart rate. Because I was obsessing about it, it made things worse. As a result, my mind couldn’t relax enough so I could sleep properly, a pattern that would continue mostly every other day for several weeks as late spring became early summer. Once I learned how to distract myself with comforting thoughts, usually silently describing discographies of rock bands and filmographies of movie stars, over time there were fewer and fewer bad nights. Right now, I weigh about 130 pounds, I feel great and I’m determined to find a gig while I continue to blog. It’s not been easy but resilency is one of my biggest strengths.
As for my professor friend, I eventually did hear from him months after that initial email. It turns out he was going through a hard time himself. (I hope he’s feeling better now.) His wife was very kind to me, offering me her phone number if I needed to call her. Thankfully, by that point, I was in a better place and ultimately didn’t require her services which I deeply appreciated.
My favourite pieces of the year were personal. Writing about my first sexual experience (I was 29 when it happened) was a challenge not because of the intimacy involved but because this is not a restricted website. I wanted to be descriptive without being too explicit. I also wanted it to be as sexy, sweet and funny for the reader as it was for me and my then-girlfriend at the time. It was a memorable period in my life and it was nice to finally have an opportunity to write about it. I hope my ex is doing well. Even though things ultimately didn’t work out, I have nothing but fondness for her.
And then, there was The Royal Canadian Air Farce. (By the way, their final episode airs tonight on CBC at 8 p.m.) Since the start of this website, I’ve wanted to write about my month-long internship with the show. But I never could figure out how to assemble all these memories of the experience in an entertaining manner. Stuck for something to write about not too long ago, I decided it was time. (My friend, Stephanie, encouraged me to go for it which ultimately convinced me to start writing about it.) Eight installments later, most of what happened back in 1996 has finally been documented. Here are a few things I couldn’t find room for in the series:
Commuting to Toronto on the GO Bus was mostly uneventful with the exception of two occasions. One day, while we were clipping along on the QEW, a man near the front of the bus started screaming incoherently. No one moved. No one said anything. When he stopped, there was a welcome silence. Then, he started screaming again. This pattern would continue off and on for the rest of the ride there. Suddenly appreciative of the back of the coach, I remember feeling trapped in this tin can prison on wheels wondering if the startling noises were a sign of true terror to come. Thankfully, he was just a harmless nut who liked to yell gibberish. Not unlike Bill O’Reilly.
On a night when I was coming back to Hamilton, there was this woman who sat directly across from the driver. Every so often, she would break into the chorus of 54-40’s She La. Let’s just say she was no Neil Osbourne. Her off-key rendition of the line "Don’t she look happy?" is tattooed on my brain. How can it not be when she kept singing it over and over and over again on the ride home.
Finally, when I was dubbing old Air Farce shows onto VHS, I remember this really cool piece of technology that was hooked up to the TV. You’d press a button and it would take a picture of what you were seeing on your screen. It was really neat. Whenever the show needed some kind of visual frame of reference, this handy device was put to work.
The death of Sherri Wood was one of the saddest moments of the year. She was so young (just 28) to have died from such a terrible disease (brain cancer). Talk about life being unfair. She was a good writer just starting to find her voice in the entertainment pages of The Toronto Sun and she was just plain lovely. (I enjoyed watching her on those Canoe Live broadcasts on Sun TV. She had interesting things to say and her smile was infectious.) Judging by the outpouring of support from her family, friends and coworkers, she was quite the lady. Fun, quirky, sensitive, and bright, despite not knowing who Three Dog Night was. The Sherri Woodstock concert allowed those closest to her to celebrate her life while taking in some music from bands the club reporter strongly supported. Bill Brioux, Aaron Sawyer and Debbie Wood deserve all the credit in the world for making the event happen.
For the first time, there were less than 100 postings on this website this year. Fewer films were screened and reviewed, there were far fewer Quebecor/Sun Media commentaries compared to last year (it’s a depressing beat that The Toronto Sun Family Blog does a far better job of covering), there weren’t as many political pieces and there were longer periods of inactivity. It is my hope that you’ll be reading far more entries on here in the new year. My series on the Winners & Losers Of 2008 will continue in January. Normally, all of those pieces would be posted in December but because the holiday season proved busier than I expected, the remaining installments have been postponed until the new year. I don’t know how many more there will be but they’ll be shown here as soon as they’re ready. Furthermore, I’m not quite sure what kinds of writing will be showcased here in the near future. What I do know is I’m eager to try new things, maybe experiment a little bit with different ideas just to see what kinds of reactions the material will receive. I hope to do more movie reviews and history pieces, and it would be nice to try some more poetry and short fiction. We’ll see how the year progresses.
In the meantime, with a new President coming to the White House in a few weeks, let’s hope that the hope that he spoke of frequently during the campaign will be the most influential idea of 2009.
Happy New Year, everybody.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, December 31, 2008